Mother’s diet affects cleft-palate risk in baby

Pregnant women who eat a meat-rich, fruit-poor diet may be doubling their baby’s likelihood of being born with a cleft lip or cleft palate, Dutch researchers report.

Women with this so-called Western-style diet also tended to report unhealthier habits, such as smoking or drinking, the researchers found. “The relations between dietary patterns and certain aspects of lifestyle are very interesting and may contribute to the future identification of specific risk profiles in the preconception counseling of mothers-to-be,” write Dr. Regine P. Steegers-Theunissen of Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam and colleagues.

Some studies have found an increased risk of having a child with cleft lip or palate among women with low levels of B vitamins, Steegers-Theunissen and her team note in the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

To investigate overall diet patterns and cleft-palate risk, the researchers compared 203 women who had given birth to a child with the birth defect to 178 women whose children were not malformed. Their diets were analyzed 14 months after they had given birth, because, the researches argue, diet patterns at that point were likely to be similar to how women were eating three months before and three months after conception.

The researchers divided the women into two groups based on how frequently they ate certain foods, with women who consumed more red meat, organ meats, processed meats, pizza, legumes and potatoes and less fruit classified as consuming a Western diet. Women who ate more fish, garlic, nuts and vegetables were considered to be following a “Prudent” dietary pattern.

Women who ate a more Western diet were less educated, heavier, and smoked and drank more, and had lower levels of B vitamins, on average, the researchers found. Compared with mothers whose diets were least like the Western type, the women whose diets most closely followed the Western pattern were at 1.9-times greater risk of having a child with cleft lip or cleft palate.

Furthermore, their increased risk remained after the researchers adjusted for education and cigarette and alcohol consumption.

However, no increased cleft lip or palate risk was seen among women whose diet followed the Prudent pattern, whether closely or loosely.

The researchers note that current pre-conception guidelines “emphasize that nutrition and certain lifestyle factors play an important role in early pregnancy.

SOURCE: Obstetrics & Gynecology, August 2007.

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